Noe Valley Voice October 2004

Group Wants to Give 24th Street a Beauty Treatment

By Olivia Boler

A burgeoning movement whose motto is to make 24th Street "clean, safe, and beautiful" is taking its cue from neighborhoods in cities such as Portland and Los Angeles to ramp up Noe Valley's status as the San Francisco neighborhood in which to hang out and spend money.

Over the summer, volunteers from the residents' group Friends of Noe Valley, and members of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association, teamed up to launch a campaign dubbed the 24th Street Project.

The Project, a Friends committee that is on its way to becoming a separate non-profit organization, has some ambitious goals. "What we're doing is similar to projects in cities like Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Portland," says member David Eiland.

At present, Richard May of the Noe Valley Democratic Club is chairing the group. He hopes that some of the short- and long-term ideas the volunteers are kicking around will appeal to local residents as well as boost Noe Valley's standing as a destination shopping district.

Block Captains and Flower Baskets

"One short-term idea is the appointment of block captains," says May.

A block captain would most likely be a merchant working with other merchants to keep an eye on graffiti and dirty sidewalks. They would also organize monthly "clean sweeps," for which volunteers would show up with garbage bags and gloves and pick up litter on 24th Street.

May thinks these could be a fun activity for families. The "carrot" would be that after each cleanup, the volunteers would have a party at the Noe Valley Farmers' Market.

Some other short-term projects include cleaning up the sidewalks of dog litter and garbage by renting steam cleaners, spiffing up neighborhood news racks, and bringing a touch of beauty to 24th Street with permanent flower baskets.

Eiland, who is co-owner of Just for Fun, a gift store at 24th and Noe, has taken on the task of organizing the purchase of flower baskets. By November, there will be eight of them at what Eiland terms the "gateway corners" of 24th Street: Church, Noe, and Castro streets. The goal is to eventually have 24 stainless-steel baskets, about 18 inches in diameter, attached to buildings along 24th Street.

Rock and Rose Landscaping of Cortland Avenue will set up and maintain the flower baskets. The initial cost per basket is approximately $1,225 for the first year, which includes the basket, brackets, first plantings, and maintenance. Continuing maintenance fees, which are calculated on a yearly basis, are less than half the setup cost.

At the end of September, Eiland and his fellow Project members met to discuss fundraising for the baskets.

"One idea is an Adopt-a-Basket program," Eiland says. "Also, we're hoping to get some licensed contractors to volunteer to do the installation, because that's not part of the costs."

Fairy Lights in the Trees

Another beautification idea, put forth by A Girl and Her Dog shop owner Annette Hickey, is to hang fairy lights in the trees, "like the ones on Union Street," she says.

Meanwhile, Hickey, along with Diana Barrand, who co-owns Le Zinc French Bistro, are looking into the news rack situation. Barrand points out that there seem to be newspaper and flyer dispensers every few yards along 24th Street. She would like to see them clustered at the street corners or at least kept in better condition.

"Some people use them for garbage," Barrand says. "We just would like to see them tidied up."

To that end, Hickey has contacted the San Francisco Department of Public Works, which is responsible for citing the companies that maintain the news racks.

Hickey hopes that by making 24th Street a cleaner, more desirable place to shop, everyone will enjoy the new environment and merchants will see an increase in business as well.

And Eventually a Benefit District

That's also the goal of another member of the group, Friends of Noe Valley President Debra Niemann. Niemann has been spearheading the Project's drive to designate 24th Street, and possibly Church Street down to 30th Street, a Community Benefit District (CBD).

A CBD is a non-profit special assessment district that is created to provide services the city may not be willing to pay for, such as flower baskets, benches, sidewalk cleaning, and additional trash receptacles.

"Property owners as a group decide on the level of services they would like and the amount they're willing to pay for them," Niemann explains. "Owners with commercial tenants may be able to pass through the [CBD] cost to their tenants."

"It's like taxing yourself," adds May, who is also on the board of Friends of Noe Valley. "Several neighborhoods in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Oakland, such as Montclair and Rockridge, are doing it. Those are neighborhoods that are similar to Noe Valley."

In order to form a CBD, 50 percent plus one of the property owners must vote in favor. The Board of Supervisors then needs to give its approval. If that succeeds, then a nonprofit like the 24th Street Project would manage the CBD and its funds, May says.

Before any of that happens, though, a feasibility study, which costs around $15,000, must be conducted. That could take a year. So far, Supervisor Bevan Dufty has secured $7,500 from the Mayor's Office of Economic Development to help offset the study's cost. Niemann says Friends of Noe Valley, the Merchants Association, and possibly the East & West of Castro Street Improvement Club will try to raise the other half.

She and May think a CBD in Noe Valley is definitely feasible. Other neighborhoods are doing it, they say. "The Castro is far along into its assessment phase. So is Lower Polk [Street], and the Mission is working on it," says May.

For Eiland, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1981, a makeover of the block is a long-held dream. "For years and years I've wanted to find a way to give 24th Street a more cohesive look, but not a cookie-cutter one," he says. "When people think of Noe Valley, we want them to think of a sweet, pleasant strolling and shopping experience." *